Taipei, Water City

by on Friday, 01 November 2013 Comments

 Leftover Nature by Pinti Zheng

 Text: Nick Coulson 

Connectedness to the chaos of nature, or lack of it, is inextricably linked to the modern human condition. The flow of water is a stream of consciousness running through the human psyche and a basis for spontaneous action. Yet, the modern city has tried to overcome nature, pushing it to its margins. However, nature is always rediscovering, reoccupying the human city. The flow of water is ceaseless, through, around, over and under, seamless in its passage through streams, springs, rivers, canals, lakes, reservoirs, a dancing brush swiping its calligraphy throughout the human city, leaving dynamic traces of natural and human history along its way. Like the creative flow, it can be diverted, guided, hidden, buried, yet it is always there flowing underneath and ready to emerge like a stream of consciousness.

Taipei, Water City, a new book by local author Shu Guo-zhi's, gives a historical topography of the transition of Taipei from water city to land city. It follows the alleys and lanes of the city on a journey back through time, re-exploring the canals, ditches and other stretches of water that used to cover much of the Taipei basin. Nowadays the twists and turns of Taipei's lanes and alleys mark the former routes of the canals and streams, which have been buried under tarmac and concrete. Signposts indicating former dykes, natural reservoirs and mounds are clues to tracing Taipei's forgotten heritage (The 'po' from Zhongpo for example indicated that there was once a natural reservoir there). The loss of water from the face of the city is a spatial manifestation of a city in transition, one that went from being a water-world, to a concrete industrial and commercial city.

The frolicking children and old men fishing have been removed from the river cityscape. When we see that most children in Taipei don't even know how to swim, we realize there is a general amnesia about the former water city. Taipei children may know the words to the idyllic children's song "In front of my home is a stream, behind are mountain slopes" (我家門前有小河,後面有山坡), but it is unlikely to mirror their own experience of Taipei. The Liugong Canal, gradually buried under the city in the 1970's, is perhaps the best example of this amnesia. Though there seems to have been a rupture between the generations who knew and who never knew the water city, there are still lucid memories left over amongst the older generations. For some people the name of the Liugong Canal strikes fear into their hearts as they remember it as the site of a dismembered body in a murder case, or the site where collectors of wild animals would dump their oversized crocodiles. While delivering a speech at an international Chinese literature conference, Cheng Tsun-Shing (陳傳興), an author with a background in psychoanalysis­ and head of the Flaneur publishing house, recounted, without further explanation and to the gasps of the audience, that when he walked along the Liugong Canal to school in the mornings, he would see people prodding fetuses with sticks to check if they were alive. At the time abortion was illegal. Sometimes he would smell bodies burning at night as he lived near the funeral parlour and would be left wondering if the stench was the fetuses. For others, the memory was slightly less extreme but encapsulated their fear of the filth and sewage of the hidden underworld. However, for many who lived in the age of the water city, it reminded them of their youth bathing and playing in the river, catching clams; of older men fishing, working men washing themselves at the end of the day and mothers washing the clothes in the river. It reminded them of a lost community space.

From these memories, we began shooting a short documentary, edited by Pinti Zheng, first exploring the recollections of various residents before looking at ways to reconnect this memory to contemporary Taipei, by bringing water back into the city.

 

 

Leftover architecture small
Leftover Architecture by Pinti Zheng

Pinti Zheng (鄭晴心)

Born in 1987. Video director.

目前就讀實踐大學建築設計學系

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